The main feature of irony that makes us associate it so closely with hipsters is that lots of hipsters are essentially downwardly mobile young people who are putting themselves to some practical use, however small or marginal, instead of sitting around getting obese. Sure, lots of hipsters are partying themselves into a stupor while chasing pathetically semiotic fashion trends, but that’s true of millions who aren’t at all hipsters. Turns out, downward mobility is an extraordinarily narrow way of thinking about making radical choices about how to live and why. In some aspects of our lives, we should aim lower. In some, we may have to in order to aim far higher in some others. Survival is not necessarily a state of abjection or desperation. If we occur to ourselves accurately as resourceful, we may find ourselves in fairly high-stakes or high-risk situations with a sense of plenty that makes a mockery of binaries like upward-versus-downward mobility. Hipsters might be our best witnesses to how this works, and how it can work for all of us.

James Poulos